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Herb Could Wipe Out Malaria

February 10, 2004
Posted to the web February 10, 2004
Joe Nam, Kampala

The fight against malaria could receive a major boost if the use of a medicinal plant, Artemisia annua, is promoted countrywide. The plant, which has been used in China for over 2,000 years, contains a substance called artemisinin that rapidly knocks down the malaria parasite. It is the plant from which the expensive anti-malarial drug Artenam, Artemether and Arsumax are derived.

Leaves of Artemisia annua can be prepared locally and consumed as herbal tea to treat malaria. "Malaria can be controlled or treated at home by drinking the herbal tea," says Sam Ssozi, who specializes in growing herbs at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).

To make the anti-malarial tea, one litre of boiling water is poured onto five grams of dried leaves of Artemisia annua. It is allowed to brew for 10-15 minutes, and then poured through a sieve.

This tea is then drunk in four portions a day. The period of treatment is between five to seven days. However, most people feel better by the second or third day of treatment. Experts advise that even when you feel better, you should take the tea for five days.

"There are no significant side effects," says Ssozi.

The plant is currently being multiplied at the UWEC in Entebbe, Rukararwe Partnership in Bushenyi and a few other isolated projects.

The only variety that grows in Uganda is the hybrid Artemisia anamed (also called A-3), which was bred for tropical countries. This hybrid is named after ANAMED (Action for Natural Medicines), a German group that has been carrying out extensive research on the plant. The group donated the seeds to UWEC.

"I have eradicated malaria from my home and my neighborhood using herbal tea," says Ssozi. Even neighbors are flocking to his place. Artemisia annua anamed is now being cultivated in Tanzania and Madagascar for export. Medicine from artemisinin derivatives is processed in Europe and re-exported to Africa, where it is sold at hefty prices. In Uganda, an adult dose of any artemisinin-based drug costs more than sh10,000. Corn Amayi of the Natural Chemotherapeutics Laboratory of the Ministry of Health says extensive research has been done on the plant and that it is effective in curing Malaria.

"What is left," he said, "is to ensure that people grow it widely and use it to cure malaria." He adds that efforts are underway to have it multiplied for mass usage in the country.

A Ugandan agricultural scientist said many planting materials could rapidly be reproduced using a method known as tissue culture.

In view of increasing resistance of Plasmodium falciparum, (the parasite that causes malaria) to common drugs such as chloroquine and fansidar, Artemisia annua could offer an effective and affordable alternative.